Marbotic Smart Letters is a great new toy and set of apps for small children to learn about letters, phonetics, and reading.
The Smart Letters themselves are 26, upper case wooden letters with little metal peg handles and rubber feet for protecting your tablet while kids slide and mash them on the screen. They are compatible with all models of iPad and include three free apps (which are available in English, French, Spanish, German and Dutch)–Vocabubble, Alphamonster, and Bla Bla Box.
The Vocabubble app is designed to help build vocabulary. There are two modes of play. The first displays a random letter and makes the phonetic sound. Tapping the correct letter on the screen, converts the letter into a picture and word. For example, “A” becomes “alligator” or “ant.” The second mode of play, which is one of my favorites across the whole app set, has the child choose any two letters and top them in the boxes on the screen. Once the letters are chosen, random pictures appear on the screen and the goal is to tap the letter on the picture that starts with the correct letter. For example, starting with “A” and “I” makes pictures of an iguana, an igloo, an artichoke, and a set of armor appear. If the wrong letter is tapped, a water sploosh sound is played. If the correct letter is tapped, the word is said aloud and a new picture replaces it.
Alphamonster has three different modes of play. One mode has a single picture for each letter that correlates to a word and animation. This doesn’t require any of the physical letters and is really just for fun. The second mode of play can actually do five different actions. The child can select between choosing the correct letter based on seeing the letter (simple matching), hearing the phonetics of a letter, choosing the correct letter based on the image and animation, choosing the correct letter based on seeing the lower case version of the letter, or choosing the correct letter based on seeing the cursive version of the letter. The final mode combines everything together. Select any letter and put it into the Alphamonster’s mouth and he will do the phonetics, show the picture and animation as well as show the lower case and cursive version of the letter. My son liked this app the least of all three.
The third and final app, Bla Bla Box, is definitely our favorite of the set. The app is designed to build spelling and reading skills while also reinforcing phonetics. As a letter is tapped on the screen, the phonetics are played and subsequent letters attach to the previous ones, building words (or at the least sounds) for children to learn how letters sound together. We started with “Owen” and “Hazel” but quickly moved on to “Anakin,” “Padme,” and “Rancore” (I added the e at the end to fix the pronunciation). Overall, I was surprised and happy with how well words, even odd Star Wars names, were pronounced by the app. We’ve probably played with just Bla Bla Box for a dozen or so hours total so far.
My son absolutely loves the letters and the games. Trying to spell words and hearing the app say them out loud is definitely his favorite. He also likes just laying all the letters out and putting them back in the trays–he’s an organizer. I can easily say that this is a great tool for little ones learning to read, and I feel it’s really helped him with learning to sound out words. He seems to really enjoy the discovery of words versus being made to sound out a word in a book.
Note: I was sent a review copy but all thoughts and opinions above are my own.